Held to ransom

Published : Oct 25, 2017 12:30 IST

Gyaneshwar Singh outside his closed shop in Nai Basti, Gurugram.

Gyaneshwar Singh outside his closed shop in Nai Basti, Gurugram.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a clear majority in Haryana for the first time in 2014 and was able to form the government on its own. The State government then proceeded to implement some of the promises made in the BJP’s manifesto, including tough laws on cow slaughter. That was on expected lines as the BJP government at the Centre had made cow protection an issue even for the Lok Sabha election. Almost every BJP-ruled State had added teeth to laws banning cow slaughter.

So when Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced in May this year that meat shops and abattoirs would not be allowed to operate near religious establishments and schools, there was no surprise. Meat shop owners were given a list of 21 conditions, quite similar to those that their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh are required to meet. A directive to close down illegal meat shops and slaughterhouses was issued, and such shops were sent notices asking them to obtain licences. They would have to give details of what kind of meat they sold and where they were sourcing it from. As many as 666 meat shops were closed in the State, the largest number in Gurugram. Henceforth, “meat shops should be situated on a site or in building transferred by the committee improvement Trust for the purpose or in a locality approved by the committee”.

The similarity with what happened in Uttar Pradesh after Yogi Adityanath took over cannot be missed. However, whereas in Uttar Pradesh shutting down of unlicensed meat shops had been an electoral promise of the BJP, that had not been the case in Haryana. A Dalit meat seller in Gurugram city made his feelings clear: “Let us say we made a big mistake voting for the BJP.”

On October 8, a fresh directive from the Chief Minister said no new meat shops would be allowed to open in residential areas.

Frontline spoke to meat shop owners whose shops had been sealed for almost six months following the first directive against meat shops operating near religious places and educational institutions. Apart from acquiring licences, meat shop owners were now required to keep deep freezers, specify what meat they were selling, and indicate whether the meat was “halal” or “jhatka”. They would have to plaster and lime-wash their walls and use impervious material for flooring. There were other inexplicable conditions like “there should not be any direct communication between the premises of meat shop and any room used for living and sleeping”.

The directive proscribed slaughter of animals on the meat shop premises. Animals can now be slaughtered only at places permitted by the Municipal Committee. Yet there is not a single government-authorised abattoir in the State. Local residents told Frontline that there was a proposal to build one in the Kadipur Industrial Area in Gurugram, but the plan was abandoned following protests from people living in the area. A building that had been constructed for the purpose was converted into a fire station with a temple attached to it.

Despondent traders

In the predominantly Dalit locality of Nai Basti in old Gurugram, a quiet air of despondency hangs over four shops that sell pork. They catered to a population of about 12,000 people and also received orders from outside the locality. “We have been in the business for nearly three decades. We don’t know anything else. Our families survive on the sale of meat. The idea of doing this in Haryana has come from Uttar Pradesh,” said Gyaneshwar Singh, owner of Shikaar Pork Shop. He said that after 2007, licences were not renewed by the Municipal Committee.

On August 10, he received a notice to “close the illegal sale of meat”. It followed an inspection of his shop by a Municipal Corporation team, which found him guilty of selling meat without a licence and thus in contravention of the Haryana Municipal Corporation (Regulation of Sale of Meat) Bye laws, 2008, and the Municipal Corporation Act. He applied for a licence within 10 days of receiving the notice. It has been more than a month, but he has received no intimation.

“The notice is clear that until I get the licence, I cannot sell meat. Never before were we made to feel as if we were doing something illegal. I have bought a deep freezer, but not everyone can afford it, nor do they have the space for one in their shops. I have spent a lot of money renovating the shop and have yet to recover the money from the sale of meat,” he told Frontline . He added that a freezer was not of much use anyway as most of the meat was sold off on the day of slaughter.

Dalits and Muslims suffer

Suman, another pork seller, said: “For 15 days our shops were shut after the list of conditions was issued. The police scared us by saying we would have to move. If we move out from here, we will lose our customers. Our buyers are mainly poor people, the industrial workers who live in the old city, rickshaw pullers and even body builders. Some among the upper castes request us to give them the teeth of the pig for superstitious reasons. Look, there are no jobs for us, either in the government or in the private sector, and this is what we have been doing for years.”

There is social pressure on meat shops to stay shut during religious festivals, and they comply. “Why antagonise people? We do not want any trouble,” Suman explained. “The majority community expects that we will not sell meat on festive days, especially during Navaratri. Yes, we do lose out on income.” Another meat seller, Raju, said: “Every day there is a jayanti [anniversary] of some religious figure, so we have to close our shops.” Some local residents say that the obsession with vegetarianism and religiosity is new. Some of them recalled that devotees used to offer meat at the famed Sheetla Mata temple in Gurugram, believed to be located at the site where Eklavya cut off his thumb as an offering to Dronacharya.

In Jacobpura, a neighbourhood adjoining Nai Basti, 15 meat shops were sealed as they were located near a temple. One of the shop owners, a Dalit called Pritam, told Frontline that the meat shops predated the temple. “The government has to provide us with alternative livelihoods,” he said. He said that Dalits and Muslims, the two communities engaged in meat trade, were suffering because of the new proscriptions. “Our shutters have been down for the last four months. We are challenging it in court as there are vested interests behind shutting us down, and I do not rule out land grab,” he said with unconcealed bitterness.

Meat shop owners in Haryana are worried over what they perceive as a targeting of their trade. The way in which the Shiv Sena forced meat shops to stay shut on two occasions this year has only deepened their anxiety. That meat sellers now have to declare whether their meat is “halal” or “jhatka” is curious. It is well known that halal meat sellers are Muslims, while jhatka meat sellers are Hindus.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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